The Philosophy of the First Degree
MW Bro. Harry E. Howard
Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Alberta1952-53.
Paper Delivered atthe Conference of Grand Masters of North Americaon 24
In the first place I must express my appreciation of the honor which was given to my GrandLodge of Alberta and myself in being invited to prepare an address to this highly selectivebody of distinguished Freemasons, representing as it does such a large number of brethrenwho have at some time requested a petition for admission to this most ancient and honorableinstitution. During my peregrinations over the length and breadth of my jurisdiction, stretchingfourteen hundred miles north of the boundary to the Arctic Circle and four hundred miles eastfrom the Rocky Mountains to the westerly boundary of our neighboring jurisdiction to the east,I have endeavored to emphasize the universality of the science and ever present need for thebrethren to practice outside of the Lodge those precepts of virtue which are so beautifullyinculcated within it. I have been conscious of the wishes, nay the heartfelt appeal, of many of our brethren who are away from centres where Masonic education is more readily available,for some enlightenment on the significance of the symbols and work and lectures and charges.Hitchcock in his Alchemy and Alchemist, written in 1857, quotes an old Hermetic philosopheras saying "although a man be poor, yet may he very well attain to perfection" and oncommenting on this be says, "That is, every man, no matter how humble his vocation, may dothe best he can in his place - may love mercy, do justly and walk humbly with God; and whatmore doth God require of any man." It would appear, therefore that even the symbols of theAlchemist have an affinity with the symbols of the spiritual temple of Freemasonry.In all my work in Lodge I have always been impressed with the deep spiritual and ethical valueof the lessons portrayed in the First Degree. I agree that the three degrees supply a wellrounded and abiding series of principles which should carry one through all the vissicitudes of life, but the first degree, as is proper, packs a punch which brings a man up smart to realizethat here is something steeped in fundamentals for a definite "way of life."The dictionary defines philosophy as 'the general principles, laws or causes that furnish therational explanation of anything - practical wisdom." This being so I feel that I cannot dobetter than to use as a basis for my subject, the procedure which is provided in order tobecome an Entered Apprentice. Voltaire, one of the great philosophers and a Freemason, said"the discovery of that which is true and the practice of that which is good are the two most.important objects of philosophy."When one has asked for and receives a "petition" and this, vouched for by two brethren, ispresented in open Lodge, then other brethren are assigned, to assure themselves of theworthiness of the petitioner. Certain attributes should be looked for here, such as thelikelihood of keeping confidences the tendency towards fidelity and loyalty and whether or notthere would be a risk of the petitioner to balk at the need for obedience. There should also begiven some idea of the need, on the part of the petitioner, for a spiritual atmosphere in hisattitude, having in mind the questions which will be asked of him if he should be so fortunateas to be admitted, and it is the nature of these questions which point out the basic principlesinherent in the Masonic philosophy.